The Chat for Impact community came together for two days of collaboration, innovation and exploration at the second annual Chat for Impact Summit which took place at Innovation City in Cape Town in November.
The global gathering drew more than 100 people to Cape Town and many hundreds more for the Americas and EMEA and APAC online sessions - and powerfully underscored the role of chat in helping solve the problems of our time.
“Building a community of impactful organizations using WhatsApp to simply make the world a better place,” stated Scott Miller, VP Partnerships, Business Messaging at Meta, of the Summit’s intention in his opening remarks. Alongside a powerful opening keynote, titled People’s Pathways to Global Justice, by Kumi Naidoo, founding chair of Africans Rising, this was the vision that drove the more than 20 keynotes, lightning talks, panels and technical workshops at the second annual event.
“It was wonderful to bring the Chat for Impact community together, both in-person and virtually, for this year’s Summit event,” added Ben Supple, Global Head of Public Sector & Nonprofit Partnerships at Meta Business Messaging. “We’re continually inspired by the innovative ways in which organizations all over the world are using WhatsApp to scale their impact."
Gustav Praekelt, co-founder of Turn.io, said, “Over the past few years we have seen the incredible impact of chat solutions using WhatsApp for organizations working in the social impact space. Bringing that collective experience from different spheres and locations around the world helps to catapult learning and growth, connecting people so they can work together to build better, more scalable chat services that can improve and even save lives.”
Marnie Webb, Chief Community Impact Officer for TechSoup shared fascinating insights from her work with communities around the world, helping to make technology solutions available to them that can help them move towards impact.
This was reiterated by Pippa Yeats, Turn.io co-founder and Product Manager. “A conversation at a key moment can change a life. This year’s Chat for Impact Summit was a celebration of the millions of life-changing conversations had with people in need across the globe this year.”
In framing the Summit, the benchmarks reached by the Chat for Impact community were described by Simon de Haan, CTO and co-founder of Turn.io in his welcoming address.
Formed around the essential concept that personal, trusted and secure conversations really have the ability to change lives, Turn.io’s Chat for Impact community originated in 2018 in Cape Town, with 10 people attending the first gathering. Over 2022 the community has grown to over 250 live impact services delivering impact, with the Chat for Impact online community numbering over 10 000 members. Another area of growth was reflected in the nearly 1000 applications for the 2022 Chat for Impact Accelerator programme, with participants doubling from 10 in 2021 to 20 this year.
A key aspect of the 2022 Summit was presentations by services that are seeing real impact within the communities they serve. These included Alex Meadow of Vote.org who spoke about the organization’s Turn.io powered WhatsApp service being able to “meet voters where they are”. “In 2020 we identified the fastest growing and largest minority group of voters in the US as Latino voters but they were facing a lot of mis- and disinformation and voter suppression tactics. We worked with Turn.io and WhatsApp to provide a bilingual chatbot for these voters to get trusted, non partisan, accurate information about the election in English or Spanish.”
Other examples of impact came from Jonathan McKay of SameSame (SameSame — a virtual lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth), Sara Chamberlain, BBC Media Action (Closing the gender digital divide in India) and Marcha Bekker, Sesame Workshop International South Africa (Huh? Elmo is on WhatsApp? Sesame Workshop lessons in implementing WhatsApp chatbots on three continents). Roman Prymush of the State Emergency Service (SES) of Ukraine, spoke about the crisis response tool developed for Ukraine. Reflecting on the tool during the Summit, Gustav Praekelt said that it provided a lens into how the work of the Chat for Impact Community had grown. “At the beginning we mostly used chat for long term, safe and secure and real time support, like with MomConnect. But building the SES tool brought home the role of WhatsApp and chat in enabling people to get the information they need in a crisis, in a really safe and secure way.”
Unsurprisingly, the role of chat in health was a central theme at the Summit with Anubhav Arora of Noora Health speaking on Using remote digital technology to train family members on life-saving caregiving skills, Debbie Rogers of Praekelt.org speaking on MomConnect : The first health programme to use the WhatsApp API and Andy Pattison from WHO speaking on Serving the Vulnerable: Scaled Support to Those with Limited Digital Connectivity. All three were also live on the health panel titled The Future of Health Messaging, which touched on another key theme of the conference - what lies ahead for chat in the health sector.
An important contribution came from Andy Pattison, Team Lead of Digital Channels at the World Health Organization (WHO) which worked with Praekelt.org and Turn.io to power the WHO Health Alert Service on WhatsApp early in the COVID-19 pandemic as well as on several other services. “Our aim is to have more health messages, into more lives, through more channels so that people can make better health decisions and live healthier lives,” said Pattison, pointing to several aspects that contributed to the impact of this work, including the importance of local partners. “We are very aware at WHO that our local partners are often better at local implementation than we are,” shared Pattison.
An important part of the Summit were the Lightning Talks by all 20 organizations selected for the Chat for Impact 2022 Accelerator. With each organization demonstrating their unique chat service and their theory of change, this part of the Summit was exciting and inspiring - and gave insight into the many different ways, impact areas and geographical locations where chat is being used for impact.
In offering her congratulations to the winners, Komal Lahiri, vice president, WhatsApp Monetization and Global Operations for Meta Platforms said “during the time in which the world is facing so many complex crises, it is amazing to see the innovative ways in which organizations globally are using chat to advance social impact”.
“WhatsApp was originally built for friends and family to connect with each other, one-on-one and in small groups,” added Lahari. “Today it is used by over two billion people around the world and has become the primary tool for organizations, including non profits, journalists and even governments, to reach their audience. WhatsApp is incredibly proud to be able to play a role in helping to creating positive impact for some of the most important issues of our time - be it empowering people to participate in elections or combating misinformation, responding to natural or manmade crises, or empowering health authorities to reach people in need in a once in a lifetime pandemic.”